Building Generational Wealth

By Amanda N. Wegner

Over time, real estate can be a powerful tool for building wealth. But for decades, many people of color were locked out of the housing market due to segregation, redlining and racial inequity, denying them access to a significant driver for generational wealth.

“During the 1940s and 1950s, the Federal Housing Administration, Veterans Administration and GI Bill backed $120 billion in home loans — of which 98% went to white homebuyers,” says Myesha Thompson, the new director of OWN IT: Building Black Wealth. “If you understand how real estate appreciation works, this clearly sheds light on how the wealth gap is getting worse and not better.”

Founded in April 2021, OWN IT: Building Black Wealth is a private-sector initiative led by a diverse team of Madison-area real estate, banking and financial professionals who acknowledge the systemic racism embedded within their industries. It’s designed to reduce barriers to wealth and home ownership for families of color who have been prevented from accumulating generational wealth historically because of redlining (a general term for racial discrimination in housing) and other racist policies. The program has two key elements: education and access to $15,000 down payment grants for first-time homebuyers. The funding comes from donations from community members and businesses of all sizes. Real estate professionals can also be program ambassadors and donate a percentage of every commission check they receive to the program.

OWN IT piloted the program with One City School’s families, alumni and staff. Ten families have received grants since the inception of the program and eight of them have closed on their homes, says Thompson.

Anneka Mckenzie, an OWN IT grant recipient, moved here from Jamaica as a single mother with a three-year-old son and no family support.

“Programs like OWN IT are very important for people of color because they give us hope and help to bridge gaps in society … ” she says. “It means a lot that an immigrant like me was given the opportunity to participate in such a life-changing program. It hasn’t been an easy journey for me.”

Thompson notes that OWN IT plans to continue its program model with hopes for expansion.

“What is powerful about this movement is that it is a collaboration within the real estate and financial communities,” says Thompson.

“We are changing the way change can happen!”

Closing the racial wealth gap also requires addressing the root causes of these gaps, says Angela Jones, director of community impact-income at United Way of Dane County, which has several initiatives to address equity gaps, including creating training opportunities for people to secure family-supporting jobs with quality benefits. It also calls on the whole community to address the systemic racism still apparent in many institutions.

Thompson says there is no one simple way to close the gap — there are a number of solutions that people are working on. She says the best path is to continue to work toward solutions, evaluate what is working, what isn’t and adjust to make changes.

“Understanding it is both complex and urgent means that collaboration is key,” she says.”

And we can all have a hand in this. Araceli Esparza, founder of Midwest Mujeres Collective and a frequent speaker on equity, recommends advocating in your workplace and creating educational and empowerment opportunities. Jones recommends using your voice and votes to help make changes. Thompson says to “actively challenge the policies, procedures and practices that are still in place today.” Volunteer with organizations that are working to make life better for individuals and families in our community. And give generously to organizations to help continue and grow this work.

“We already have a generous community,” says Jones, “but we need everyone that can give to give so we can move the needle on issues that are keeping people from being able to change their lives and the lives of their children.”


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